A bunion is an enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe (the metatarsophalangeal or MTP joint) that forms when the bone or tissue moves out of place. The toe bends inward at an awkward angle, which usually creates a large bone lump. If not treated, bunions can become very painful since this area supports a lot of body weight. The MTP joint can also become sore and stiff. Bunions can occur on the outside of the little toe as well.
The exact cause of bunions is unknown, but they tend to run in families. Wearing badly fitting shoes is thought to make bunions worse. It's also thought that bunions are more likely to occur in people with unusually flexible joints, which is why bunions sometimes occur in children. In some cases, certain health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout, may also be responsible.
The most common symptoms associated with this condition are pain on the side of the foot. Shoes will typically aggravate bunions. Stiff leather shoes or shoes with a tapered toe box are the prime offenders. This is why bunion pain is most common in women whose shoes have a pointed toe box. The bunion site will often be slightly swollen and red from the constant rubbing and irritation of a shoe. Occasionally, corns can develop between the 1st and 2nd toe from the pressure the toes rubbing against each other. On rare occasions, the joint itself can be acutely inflamed from the development of a sac of fluid over the bunion called a bursa. This is designed to protect and cushion the bone. However, it can become acutely inflamed, a condition referred to as bursitis.
Clinical findings are usually specific. Acute circumferential intense pain, warmth, swelling, and redness suggest gouty arthritis (see Gout) or infectious arthritis (see Acute Infectious Arthritis), sometimes mandating examination of synovial fluid. If multiple joints are affected, gout or another systemic rheumatic disease should be considered. If clinical diagnosis of osteoarthritic synovitis is equivocal, x-rays are taken. Suggestive findings include joint space narrowing and bony spurs extending from the metatarsal head or sometimes from the base of the proximal phalanx. Periarticular erosions (Martel sign) seen on imaging studies suggest gout.
Non Surgical Treatment
Conservative Treatment. Apply a commercial, nonmedicated bunion pad around the bony prominence. Wear shoes with a wide and deep toe box. If your bunion becomes inflamed and painful, apply ice packs several times a day to reduce swelling. Avoid high-heeled shoes over two inches tall. See your podiatric physician if pain persists. Orthotics. Shoe inserts may be useful in controlling foot function and may reduce symptoms and prevent worsening of the deformity. Padding & Taping. Often the first step in a treatment plan, padding the bunion minimizes pain and allows the patient to continue a normal, active life. Taping helps keep the foot in a normal position, thus reducing stress and pain. Medication. Anti-inflammatory drugs and cortisone injections are often prescribed to ease the acute pain and inflammations caused by joint deformities. Physical Therapy. Often used to provide relief of the inflammation and from bunion pain. Ultrasound therapy is a popular technique for treating bunions and their associated soft tissue involvement.
Procedures are designed and chosen to correct a variety of pathologies that may be associated with the bunion. For instance, procedures may address some combination of removing the abnormal bony enlargement of the first metatarsal, realigning the first metatarsal bone relative to the adjacent metatarsal bone, straightening the great toe relative to the first metatarsal and adjacent toes, realigning the cartilagenous surfaces of the great toe joint, addressing arthritic changes associated with the great toe joint, repositioning the sesamoid bones beneath the first metatarsal bone, shortening, lengthening, raising, or lowering the first metatarsal bone, and correcting any abnormal bowing or misalignment within the great toe. Connecting two parallel long bones side by side by Syndesmosis Procedure. At present there are many different bunion surgeries for different effects. The age, health, lifestyle and activity level of the patient may also play a role in the choice of procedure. Traditional bunion surgery can be performed under local, spinal or general anesthetic. In the case of laser surgery, a narcotic analgesic is typically used. The trend has moved strongly toward using the less invasive local anesthesia over the years. A patient can expect a 6- to 8-week recovery period during which crutches are usually required for aid in mobility. An orthopedic cast is much less common today as newer, more stable procedures and better forms of fixation (stabilizing the bone with screws and other hardware) are used. Hardware may even include absorbable pins that perform their function and are then broken down by the body over the course of months.